Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence: Is There a Link?

Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence: Is There a Link?

It’s hard to comprehend why anyone would intentionally harm a helpless animal. Yet, we know animal abuse occurs. What we don’t always talk about is the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Animal abuse can be a clear warning sign of potential or occurring domestic violence. But animal abuse can also keep victims trapped in these abusive relationships out of fear for their pets. 

How can we spot the warning signs? And how can pet owners safely leave an abusive partnership without leaving their beloved furry friend behind?

The Link Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

There is a clear link between animal abuse and violence against humans. Research as far back as the 1980s indicated that animal cruelty is a clear sign of future violent behavior toward humans. In fact, animal abuse is one of the four predictors of domestic violence, according to a large national study. 

Those who commit animal abuse are often obsessed with controlling others, be it animals or people. This desire for control indicates that this person is capable of both psychological and physical abuse, using any means necessary to exert dominance. 

Women who experience abuse often report that their partner also abused the family’s pet. Up to 83% of women entering domestic violence shelters say their abuser was violent with pets in the household. 

Children and Animal Abuse

One frightening statistic shows that children who abuse animals overwhelmingly commit violence and other criminal acts as adults. Pediatricians, mental health professionals, and crime prevention organizations all agree that animal cruelty among children is a strong indicator of future delinquent behavior.

It’s unknown why some children abuse animals. Sometimes, mental illness or antisocial personality disorder is behind the abuse. Other experts suggest that children who abuse animals may be victims of violence in the home, have witnessed abuse against animals or people, or have other underlying trauma.

Whatever the reason behind the animal abuse, any child who mistreats an animal should be evaluated for potential psychological issues. While many parents hesitate to report their child’s abusive behavior, early intervention is critical. As violent children get older, it becomes much more difficult to redirect the abusive behavior. Without intervention, there is a strong chance that these children may commit violent acts against people. 

Reporting Animal Cruelty

Thankfully, every state has an animal cruelty statute. However, only four states and the District of Columbia require officials to report animal abuse to child services, prompting a child welfare check. In other states, animal cruelty may still be punishable with jail time or fines, but it’s not often reported to agencies tasked with preventing in-home abuse. Even though we know there is a strong link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, many states do not require known animal abusers to be investigated for domestic violence.

If you suspect animal abuse in a home, you should also assume some domestic abuse is taking place. Learn more about safely reporting abuse here

Abuse Survivors: What About Our Pets?

Two out of every three American homes have at least one pet. Given those statistics, we know that roughly that same rate of abusive homes also have pets. Unfortunately, many abusers will use the pets as leverage in a relationship, often threatening to harm or kill an animal if the abuse victim doesn’t comply or leaves.

Many victims of domestic abuse stay in abusive situations because they do not want to leave their pets behind. In one study by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 97% of respondents said that keeping their pets is important when considering a domestic violence shelter.

Recognizing the importance of this issue – and the link between human and animal abuse – many domestic violence shelters now offer accommodations for survivors and pets. Currently, there are about 250 pet-friendly shelters in the U.S., but many more provide foster programs or lodging arrangements for pets. Our nonprofit partner, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) of Dane County, WI, works with Sheltering Animal of Abuse Victims (SAAV). SAAV offers free care for pets while survivors shelter with DAIS and other domestic violence shelters.

By eliminating this barrier, DAIS and other assistance organizations can help even more abuse victims find safety. No one should have to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pet. 


If you or someone you know needs help leaving an abusive situation, please contact your local domestic violence shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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